People queue to get their Russian passports in the Crimean capital of Simferopol yesterday. Crimeans have been given a month to expressly state that they want to stay Ukrainian -- or they will automatically become Russian citizens, although they still have to obtain passports. The tumultuous changeover has come in just a month since the ousting of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev and Russia's capture of Crimea. Photo:AFP
Russian troops yesterday seized control of a new Ukrainian military base in Crimea, throwing stun grenades and tying up the hands of Ukrainian marines, the Ukrainian defence ministry said.
The Russian troops stormed the naval base in Feodosia in eastern Crimea in the early hours of the morning, using armoured personnel carriers and stun grenades, the spokesman of the Ukrainian defence ministry for Crimea, Vladislav Seleznyov, wrote on his Facebook page.
Russian paratroopers also descended into the base from four helicopters hovering above, he added.
He said that three Russian vehicles were then seen leaving the base carrying Ukrainian marines whose hands had been tied. Smoke was also seen coming from the barracks.
Meanwhile, Ukraine yesterday ordered its troops to withdraw from Crimea following the flashpoint peninsula's seizure and annexation by Russia in response to the fall in Kiev of a pro-Kremlin regime.
The dramatic announcement came just as world leaders gathered in The Hague for a nuclear security summit dominated by concern over the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
A top commander in NATO had warned on Sunday that the Western military alliance was carefully watching massive Russian troop formations on the eastern border of Ukraine that could theoretically make a push across the vast ex-Soviet country at any point.
Ukraine's acting president Oleksandr Turchynov told top lawmakers that both servicemen and their families would now be relocated on the mainland.
"The national security and defence council has reached a decision, under instructions from the defence ministry, to conduct a redeployment of military units stationed in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," Turchynov said in nationally televised remarks.
"The cabinet of ministers has instructions to resettle the families of soldiers as well as everyone else who today is forced to leave their homes under the pressure and aggression of the Russian army's occupying forces."
Crimea's pro-Kremlin deputy premier Rustam Temirgaliyev told Russia's RIA Novosti state news agency that "all Ukrainian soldiers have either switched to the Russian side or are leaving the territory of the Crimea."
The base in Feodosia housed Ukraine's only marine battalion. According to Ukraine's marine union, it was an elite unit that was part of the Ukrainian navy.
The storm appeared unexpected as just hours before Ukrainian soldiers had said they did not expect an attack and were peacefully packing their equipment.
"Everything is okay," lieutenant Anatoliy Mozgovoi told AFP in early evening Sunday.
"We are leaving. We don't expect an attack today, but we have soldiers ready to fight to the end," he said, adding that some soldiers planned to join the Russian army and others wanted to leave.